Date 1865-05-01
Publication Fraser's
Topic Madox Brown as WMR aesthetic exemplar
AP display
RA display
Subject art
Keywords Brown exh.
  ↳ movements
  ↳ PRB
Standards examples
  ↳ history
  ↳ analysis
Notes See also MB frescoes in Manchester.

Annotation details

65 May Fraser's


Madox-Brown as WMR exemplar: aesthetics, movements.


Rossetti, William M. "Mr. Madox-Brown's Exhibition and Its Place in Our School of Painting," Fraser's 75 (May 1865): 425. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.


In this extended essay, Rossetti presents a wide-ranging discussion of art movements, exhibitions and the development of national art. He begins with an explanation of the pros and cons of individual exhibitions as a means of justifying his focus on Ford Madox-Brown's individual exhibit. Brown becomes the standard not only of effective, Pre-Raphaelite Movement artistic development, but also as a standard against which other artists and movements are measured.

Rossetti met Brown in 1848 through Brown's friendship with Dante Gabriel (Reminiscences 1:41). William Rossetti describes the relationship with Brown, who was eight years his senior, as one of Brown being a mentor to both Dante and William Rossetti in matters of art and eventually, co-founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and fast friends for life. In addition, Madox-Brown became Rossetti's father-in-law in 1874 (Thirlwell 45).

In Brown Rossetti finds an example of effective artistic development and aesthetic expression of "poetic" art. A significant marker of Rossetti's view of authority in aesthetic expression is embedded in a discussion of artist-created descriptive catalogues to accompany exhibitions of their works. This practice, Rossetti states, should be employed more often so that art viewers can understand not only the intent and method of artistic expression in a work, but also "for certain what the artist meant," clearly privileging the artist in the interpretation and meaning associated with an art work. The drawback to such a scheme, according to Rossetti, is that it might "tempt some painters to be less careful and emphatic in telling their story upon the canvas, knowing they can fall back upon the explanation the catalogue supplies."

Rossetti sets out three elements of influence in painting: the exhibitions of cartoons and frescoes, the rise of Pre-Raphaelitism, and the influence of foreign schools. He presents a comparison of the relative achievement of artists from within the Royal Academy versus that of those outside the academy. He also explains how Brown has absorbed the best influences of all three fundamental influences, which becomes a rhetorical springboard for the discussion of the dynamics of true aesthetic movements versus the stultifying effect of academies on such development essential to authentic, poetic art.

He discusses PRB chronology and the evolution of the movement and its influence on British art over time, sending painters "back to first principles." Rossetti is true to his stated notion of dynamic change in any movement in his explanation of the trajectory of change the movement brought not only to British painting, but also to the artistry of the movement members and followers over time. Rossetti is explicit that when any movement, including the Pre-Raphaelite movement, becomes fixed and iron-clad as a standard, it becomes a detriment to art. He points to the example of Sir John Everett Millais, whom Rossetti sees growing through "modification (we will not say change) of style . . . through the influx of new determining conditions, especially the effect of foreign schools."

Rossetti concludes with brief mention of certain works in his typical pattern of description of the work, the artists' intentions and the relative merit and success of the various works.


critical, educational, historical


PRB, standards, Madox-Brown, aesthetics, accomplishment, potential

Standards of Judgment:

PRB aesthetic standards

Rhetoric and tone:

definitive, deliberative, evaluative

Works Cited

Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti. Vol. 1. New York: AMS, 1970. Print.

Rossetti, William Michael. Selected Letters of William Michael Rossetti. Ed. Roger Peattie. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1990. Print.

Thirlwell, Angela. William and Lucy: The Other Rossettis. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003. Print.